Cricket: Firebirds see CD attack as vital test

By Anendra Singh

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Andrew Mathieson is likely to start unless another spinner is required.
Andrew Mathieson is likely to start unless another spinner is required.

The team's coffee machine will be cranked up overtime, the pack of cards will receive its fair share of thrashing and the best repetitive workout for the boys will perhaps be the thumb action on TV remote controls and cellphone keys.

That regrettably is likely to be the scenario at Hawkins Basin Reserve on the first day of the four-day Plunket Shield cricket match between Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags and the Wellington Firebirds.

In fact, for the Heinrich Malan-coached Stags, their season has yet to begin after the second week of the domestic competition around the country.

Captain Kieran Noema-Barnett and his troops missed out on any action in their opening HRV Cup Twenty20 match at the reopened Hagley Park, Christchurch, last Friday, without a ball bowled.

But the outlook in the capital city for the first-class encounter against the Firebirds today looks optimistic if the weather forecast is anything to go by.

The promise of "clearing" today will depend on whether the white coats will deem the outfield fit otherwise it'll be a game of patience for both teams.

Tomorrow through to Sunday is sunny and cloudy, albeit wintry temperatures hovering around 16C at a windswept venue where woollies will be an essential item.

Defending champions Stags arrived in Wellington on Tuesday, working out indoors at Westpac Stadium yesterday to "polish off" their skills.

No doubt Malan accepts no one can control the weather, unless, of course, you're at the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

"It's not necessarily frustrating but more about us getting across the line to pit our skills ... in pushing the snowball forward," he says.

The only change to the team from the T20 one is Ajaz Patel displacing fellow tweaker Marty Kain. "Marty is not part of the shield campaign so Ajaz comes in as as another spin option who had done well in the four-day game last season so is seen as a specialist in the one-day and twenty20 format."

With the Basin Reserve wicket under the covers it's unlikely Patel will get on the field, considering the moisture will offer seamers some purchase although if there's sufficient evidence it will grab and turn on days 3 and 4 then seamer Andrew Mathieson is likely to run out the snake lollies during the drinks breaks.

Damningly the first round of shield action on the wicket last week, between the Firebirds and the Otago Volts, yielded a staggering 1371 runs, minus extras, including four centuries of which one was an unbeaten one.

Two other blokes were a handful runs each shy of carving up tons, too.

Winning the toss this morning for the 10.30 start will be vital in bowling first because that is likely to be the best chance of claiming early wickets although it's hard to imagine either side will bowl the opposition out twice with the handicap of having lost a good part of day one.

That is not to say there's anything stopping Noema-Barnett and Firebirds skipper James Franklin to be a little adventurous in their declarations for a favourable outright result.

Malan has impressed on his troops the need to adopt the right attitude on and off the field to be "ready all the time" in a culture where taking care of the little things are equally vital.

Late yesterday he gave the Stags what he calls "me time" to put their feet up.

Last summer CD struggled against the Firebirds in every format with former Stag Jesse Ryder their No1 nemesis.

With Ryder playing for the Volts this summer in a bid to resurrect his international career, CD will have one fewer distraction although Malan necessarily doesn't see it that way.

"It's not necessarily looking at specific individuals or how good they are and what they are doing.

"We're looking at what we can do and we're looking after our game.

"We did discuss the opposition but we're not too worried or focused in the individual 11 who'll play against us."

Firebirds coach Jamie Siddons says Wellington are in good batting stock despite Ryder's departure to the south.

"We haven't got Jesse but [Michael] Papps, [Michael] Pollard, Murdoch and Franklin back," says Siddons, who'll also be without wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi who is touring Bangladesh with the underperforming Black Caps playing a Twenty20 match overnight after a "Bangla-wash" in the One Day Internationals and two drawn test matches in the subcontinent.

Murdoch at No3 thrills him.

The Wellingtonians promised a lot last summer but fell shy in the final hurdle of the HRV Cup to Otago in, what Siddon believes, in the second last over.

"We had a very good one-day campaign [Ford Trophy] but we lost in the semifinal when we bowled Canterbury out cheaply, but didn't bat well," the former first-class Australian cricketer says, adding last summer was a marked improvement on the previous summer when they finished fourth, fifth and sixth.

With Franklin's experience a major factor in assuming the mantle of captaincy, the Firebirds will not miss Ronchi with Papps slipping on the gloves behind the stumps.

Wellington A player Fraser Colson will make his debut at No7 while last summer's Stag, Andrew Lamb, returning home this summer, will again carry the drinks.

"CD have a good bowling attack so that'll test our batting.

"We've already had a shield game with no results so it should be a very good competitive four-day match tomorrow," Siddons says.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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